Munson Wins Big For Democrats In HD 85

Image of Cyndi Munson

Let me join in the chorus of accolades for Democrat Cyndi Munson, who won Tuesday’s special election for the House District 85 seat in northwest Oklahoma City.

Munson, 30, who formerly worked for Girl Scouts of Western Oklahoma, beat Republican Chip Carter in a 2,640 to 2,268 vote, or by a total of 372 votes or with 54 percent of the vote, which comes to, in media parlance, an eight-point victory.

The numbers here are important, as I will point out later, but there’s no doubt this is an exciting victory for Munson and Democrats because the HD 85 seat, last held by David Dank, had been GOP-safe for more than 50 years. It was even a seat once held by Republican Gov. Mary Fallin. Munson knocked on a lot of doors for this victory, and it paid off for her and Democrats.

What’s more, Munson was outspent by Carter, who raised some $200,000 in campaign money compared to Munson, who raised less than $100,000. Carter also received endorsements from big name Republicans, such as Fallin, U.S Sens. James Lankford and Jim Inhofe and, more importantly perhaps on a local level, Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett.

All these facts created an immediate Democratic narrative that changing demographics and perhaps changing social-issue attitudes, especially in urban areas, might be shaking up the political landscape here like all these manmade earthquakes in central Oklahoma. I hope so. It may be too early, however, to conclude this. This was a special election to fill a recently deceased legislator’s seat, and Munson, if she chooses to do so, will have to run again in the 2016 general election in which the country will be choosing a new president. Republicans will be even better prepared to win the seat now that they lost it. Yet GOP voter turnout could well hinge on who will be the Republican nominee for president. Who knows?

The Republican narrative was simply that Republicans thought the election was in the bag and that GOP voter complacency—it was after all just a 372-vote margin—contributed to Carter’s defeat. Carter also had to participate in a primary election to get on the final ballot. Munson didn’t. So the Republican excuses went on Tuesday night. I do think this election will make GOP political operatives pay more attention to the demographic issues and arguments made by Democrats on a local level here in the Oklahoma City area.

But it’s important to look at some numbers before we jump to any conclusions. According to Ballotpedia, the House District 85 election in 2008, a presidential election year, drew 17,194 total voters. Since then voter turnout has declined as it has throughout Oklahoma. In 2010, the race drew 12,786 voters. Dank ran unopposed in 2012. In 2014, Munson ran for the seat the first time, and the election drew 11,770 voters.

In that 2014 election, Dank beat Munson by 6,635 to 5,135 or by about a 13-point margin. Dank had name recognition, which helped him immensely, but Munson’s vote total in that election can only be ranked as average—okay maybe a bit above average given the circumstances—for a Democrat in a Republican stronghold in a metropolitan area. On Tuesday, a total of 4,908 people voted in the HD 85 special election, less than half of the 2014 total. So the obvious question, just when it comes to numbers, is whether the lower voter turnout in the special election was the principal reason for Munson’s election. That challenges the overarching Democratic narrative about change, but it doesn’t render it invalid.

Knowing this about the numbers, another question is whether Munson will eventually come to believe she will have to shift to more conservative positions on some issues in order to win as an incumbent in 2016 when there should be a much higher voter turnout. Some of her supporters are calling Munson a “feminist,” and I hope she is, but I couldn’t find anything on her campaign site or on the Internet in which Munson talks about the right to an abortion and reproductive rights for women, the cornerstone of female empowerment. I will gladly correct this if I’ve overlooked something. In any event, it certainly doesn’t seem like supporting reproductive rights for women was a major part of her campaign strategy.

Munson, on her site, does admirably mention problems faced by many Oklahoma women, such as high rates of domestic violence. Her site states, “Oklahoma’s women need a strong voice at the State Capitol, and Cyndi will be there for them.”

But what, for example, will be her votes on anything having to do with the propaganda attacks on the women’s health organization Planned Parenthood and reproductive rights for women, issues that national and most likely local Republicans at the state level are going to use to pander to social conservative voters in the coming weeks and perhaps months?

I do know that the national Girl Scouts have specifically distanced themselves from both Planned Parenthood and the issue of reproductive rights. That, of course, doesn’t mean Munson will do the same or that it will matter much in the larger debate if she does.

I’m not suggesting here that Munson doesn’t have core progressive values, or that her victory isn’t significant, but with only 30 seats now in the 101-member House, there’s still not much Democrats can do without Republican support, which I bet will not be forthcoming in any significant way.

Supporting reproductive rights and the right to an abortion for women and supporting sensible immigration laws rather than drastic deportation of families have long created a dilemma for progressives in Oklahoma when it comes to getting elected to political office. I don’t see that changing much over the next year.

Right now, it looks like Oklahoma will face a major shortfall up to $1.2 billion in an annual budget that has been averaging about $7 billion in recent years. That could reduce education funding even more. How are teachers going to get raises in that type of financial environment? How crowded can our classrooms get? A budget shortfall, again, is shaping up to be the legislature’s REAL main issue for next year’s session. That could change, of course, because of the flux of taxes and economic development created by the boom and bust cycle of the oil and gas industry here, but it doesn’t look good, and Republicans will still be firmly in control.

Pompous Chuckles: Newspaper Monopoly Bullies Democrats

Image of Walter Conkrite

The Oklahoman editorial board issued a snarky piece of commentary Saturday ridiculing state Democrats for no apparent reason other than to ridicule state Democrats.

The ostensible point of the piece, the lead item in the newspaper’s most recent Saturday’s ScissorTales series, seems to be that there are so few Democratic state senators—only seven now out of 48 seats—that they have to serve on a lot of committees and take on numerous party-based legislative leadership roles.

All this obviousness means The Oklahoman editorial board “couldn’t help but chuckle” over the situation, further remarking, “If everyone is a ‘leader,’ who’s left to follow?” Ha ha. Good one. Get it? One plus one equals two. Ha. Chuckle. Chuckle.

The spitefulness and bullying tone of the piece is nothing new for the ultra-conservative newspaper, which often finds mean-spirited delight in its illogical and fallacious editorial stances. Still, it’s worth noting on occasion just how ugly and weird the newspaper’s editorial page can be. It begs the question: What type of people even think up these hateful little missives?

Here are two reasons this specific editorial misses the mark: (1) Different viewpoints about governance are vitally needed in places such as Oklahoma. Democrats have been trounced in recent elections here, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have solid, bipartisan ideas or that they won’t make a comeback in the future. (2) Kicking people—it’s the Oklahoma Democrats in this case—when they are down, to use a cliché, always backfires. It creates unnecessary tension that leads to conflict and revenge. It’s obvious that Republicans completely and utterly dominate state government right now. Why the “chuckle” now? This Republican domination has been the case since former Gov. Brad Henry left office.

I still wonder how the newspaper stays in business with this type of flippant attitude and with the decline of the mainstream media because of the Internet in general and all its fragmentation. Sure, it’s a monopoly newspaper, and that’s one major reason, but there are alternatives now in how people can get local information and news. How soon before the newspaper becomes irrelevant and replaced by a consortium of other news and information outlets? (We can’t help but chuckle at this idea.)

It’s worth noting that there were 885,609 registered Democrats in the state in 2014, according to the Oklahoma Election Board, compared to 854,329 Republicans. Why in the world would any business want to risk alienating 885,609 people with silly ridicule and sarcasm? Undoubtedly, many of these “Democrats” didn’t vote or voted for Republican candidates, but still that’s a large pool of potential customers to risk losing with stupid, petty sarcasm.

Overall, I very much still believe in newspapers and their positive role in informing people, especially when compared to local television news departments. The Oklahoman, however, represents a special case of mediocrity and ideological excess.

Let’s hope right-wing Colorado billionaire Philip Anschutz, 75, who made his money drilling for fossil fuels, gets tired of his conservative and propagandistic media holdings soon, and sells the newspaper to a company that promotes basic journalistic principles, such as fairness and allowing plural voices on its editorial page.

Paula Sophia For HD 88; Connie Johnson For U.S. Senate; Freda Deskin For Schools Superintendent

Paula Sophia

I have three endorsements for Tuesday’s Democratic runoff election.

First, runoff elections are notorious for their lack of voter participation. It’s vitally important for Democrats to get out the vote in this particular runoff election if only to show they are still viable as a political force in conservative, Republican-dominated Oklahoma.

It should only take a few minutes to vote given the paucity of races. The voter lines shouldn’t be that long even with a robust turnout since the ballot will be short.

The clear choice in the Oklahoma House Representative District 88 race is retired police officer and accomplished writer Paula Sophia, pictured above. The winner in this race will win the overall election because no Republican or Independent filed for the seat. This is important to realize. HD 88 voters are deciding the race tomorrow, not in the general election against a Republican.

Sophia faces Jason Dunnington, a former pastor and a candidate who extols his right-wing religious past as a reason you should vote for him. Don’t we have enough right-wing religious folks at the state Capitol? People I know who have met Dunnington on the campaign trail claim he comes off as charming and impressive, but his past just doesn’t fit with the liberal spirit and funkiness of HD 88, which includes the Paseo and Plaza districts. Dunnington is the candidate that most Republicans, undoubtedly, want to win tomorrow. Remember: The race will be decided tomorrow.

Let’s be clear. A vote for Dunnington tomorrow is a vote sanctioning right-wing religious and conservative ideology. A vote for Sophia is a vote for progressive values, such as embracing diversity and equality.

Sophia is a perfect fit for HD 88. Here’s my earlier endorsement for her in which I argued:

This is what Sophia . . . will bring to the job: Intelligence, vast historical knowledge of Oklahoma City because of her award-winning police work in a 22-year career and the ability to serve the varied interests of her constituents in a district considered one of the most liberal in the state.

As a prose writer and poet, often seen wearing a signature beret, she will also bring style and difference to a staid legislature now dominated by ultra conservatives intent on denying people equal rights and underfunding education at all levels.

As someone who struggled with gender conflict as she eventually transitioned from a man to a woman, Sophia will bring empathy and understanding to those constituents in need of help for a variety of reasons or those constituents who don’t feel part of the conservative Oklahoma status quo or who define or want to define themselves outside of the rigid, cultural codes of heteronormativity.

Again, here’s my full endorsement. HD 88 voters also have a chance to make history if they elect Sophia. She would become the first openly transgendered candidate to win office in a state legislature in the nation. That would send a huge message to the world that there are, indeed, Oklahomans who embrace diversity and equality.

Someone in HD 88 casually mentioned to me a couple of weeks ago that they were afraid Sophia could get beat by a Republican in the general election.

Let me repeat: The vote tomorrow determines the winner of the seat because no Republicans filed to run for the position.

Image of Constance Johnson

My next endorsement is for state Sen. Connie Johnson, pictured right, who faces what everyone in the media here calls a “perennial candidate” in the race to replace the retiring U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn. That perennial candidate is 79 years old and apparently makes it a hobby to run for various state offices to make some point that’s difficult to discern. He also apparently does very little actual campaigning. Johnson received the most votes in the primary election, but she didn’t garner enough votes to get beyond the 50 percent threshold needed to prevent a runoff.

I wrote about the 62-year-old Johnson and her career here. In that post, I argued:

. . . Johnson, on the other hand, is an accomplished state senator with bona fide progressive credentials. She’s running a credible and viable campaign with volunteers and donors. She may face an uphill battle against the better-funded Lankford in the general election, but this runoff election is simply a waste of Democrats’ time and money. They need to come out in big numbers Aug. 26 to support Johnson, and that means party workers at all levels throughout the state need to work to get out the vote for her.

I do expect Johnson to win this election and face U.S. Rep. Lankford in the general election for Coburn’s seat, but a big turnout for Johnson could energize Democrats here.

I also wrote this about her:

Johnson is well known in the Oklahoma City area as an advocate for corrections reform, reproductive rights for women and wider medical access. While some Democrats have either lost their voice during the recent conservative wave in Oklahoma or given up the political scene entirely, Johnson has been an unwavering fighter for economic equality and the rights of women and minorities.

In the end, it’s simply a no-brainer. Johnson has the political and work experience that makes her by far the best Democratic candidate in this race. There’s simply no question about it. Again, here’s my full endorsement.

I also support Freda Deskin for state Schools Superintendent in the Democratic runoff against John Cox. Deskin has received the endorsement of Victor Hutchison, a founding member of Oklahomans for Excellence in Science Education (OESE) and an emeritus zoology professor at the University of Oklahoma. The Tulsa World has also endorsed Deskin.

Hutchison is concerned that Cox, at a recent meeting, didn’t take a stance against those who oppose the teaching of evolution in schools. In a recent email to OESE supporters, Hutchison personally endorsed Deskin, arguing:

Deskin is clearly the best candidate, with a long and wide-ranging experience in education at all levels. At the meeting in Norman Cox’s answer to a question about teaching evolution, his first response was “I believe in God.” In follow up statements he made it clear that evolution in public schools was not one of his concerns; he did this by quickly changing to other topics. He was not well-received by that audience and many there thought he was the worst of the four candidates who appeared on different dates.

The World argued:

Deskin understands public schools, and we believe she would be the kind of collegial leader that Oklahoma education needs to follow Barresi.

Her platform is not ideal, but it is closer to the reform agenda the state needs than her opponent.

I especially think voters should note Hutchison’s concerns.

Should it be Al McAffrey or Tom Guild for the U.S. Representative seat in Oklahoma’s 5th Congressional district runoff election on the Democratic side? It’s just too close to call for me. I have known and talked to both candidates through the years. Guild was a colleague of mine at the University of Central Oklahoma where we worked together on the UCO and state affiliates of the American Association of University Professors. McAffrey made history by becoming the first openly gay Oklahoma legislator, an event that is extremely important in the march to equality here. Each candidate would be a solid representative on the Democratic side in the race, which pundits have argued is a sure victory for Republicans in the general election.

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